Magazine article Online

Yahoo!'s Long Strange Journey

Magazine article Online

Yahoo!'s Long Strange Journey

Article excerpt

Microsoft wanted to buy Yahoo! last year, a fact widely reported in both the business and general press. Yahoo! rebuffed the Redmond giant. A change in the economy and Yahoo! leadership made for a very different deal announced at the end of July 2009. If that deal gets regulatory and other approvals, Yahoo! will stop maintaining its own search engine database and will use Microsoft's Bing, at least for web, image, and video search. Business analysts looked at the deal and analyzed it for the financial implications. The question for searchers is whether or not to continue to use Yahoo!, and if so, for how long and for what types of searches. The answer depends, in part, on how the future Yahoo! will appear.


Back when the web was young, in those early, heady days when anyone with internet access could make a simple webpage and new services sprouted unusual names, a couple of Stanford graduate students (no, not those two, they come much later in the web's story) decided to collect a bunch of interesting links. In a very librarianesque manner, as the list got too lengthy to manage, they decided to categorize it. Thus "Jerry and David's Guide to the World Wide Web" became instead "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle," or Yahoo! for short.

Yahoo! became an extremely popular starting point in the early days of the web. It offered a subject approach to the rapidly growing number of content sites. Yet it was not originally a search engine, not a tool that searched through the content of webpages. That came later, as did its change into a portal. Instead, the original Yahoo! was a directory--a hierarchically categorized listing of websites and pages with a brief description of each entry.

Yahoo! cataloged the web, or at least that portion of the web that it found interesting. Only later did it add what has come to be called a search engine. At first it worked with partners: Open Text, AltaVista, Inktomi, and Google. Each of these companies, in turn, provided follow-up search results after the directory matches. The search engines looked for words in the complete text of the page rather than just in the category names, titles, and brief descriptions in the Yahoo! directory. As the web grew, the directory approach became unsustainable, and Yahoo! moved its focus to becoming a personalized portal to the web. It relied more heavily on its search engine partner.

The directory from which Yahoo! grew was eventually retired from the homepage and excluded from search results (unless you clicked on the "More" drop down menu). It became more difficult to find in general. As search increased in importance, Yahoo! started buying other search companies--some of its previous partners (AltaVista and Inktomi) and its competitors (AlltheWeb)--while still relying on Google for its search engine results. From that purchased technology (primarily Inktomi), Yahoo! was finally able to launch its own search engine database in February 2004.


Despite the July 2009 announcement, Yahoo! is still running its own, unique search engine database, along with all of its other services. Just because future plans have been announced, all the details have yet to be resolved and accomplished. At the time of the announcement, the two companies said that the search engine changeover from a Yahoo! database to Bing will most likely be in the second half of 2010. Until that time, Yahoo!'s database will continue to be its own, and it will presumably continue to be updated with potential user interface changes. In August 2009, Yahoo! announced it was testing changes in its search experience. In the test, the right-hand margin has search refinement options. Whether the test will be rolled out to all users remains to be seen, but the announcement of the test appears to be an attempt by Yahoo! to show that it will continue to work on improving the search experience. …

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